The road to success is wide open - Dr Patrina Law

The Open University has always had a radical and pioneering approach to access. OpenLearn was launched in 2006 as a trailblazing open educational resource at a scale and breadth never seen before.

Dr Patrina Law is the Head of OpenLearn at The Open University.

It set out with a vision to break down barriers to education and benefit the wider community by offering free online learning at scale. Fifteen years later, The Open University has created over 1,000 free courses for OpenLearn, 15,000 hours of articles and videos and has attracted 100 million visitors.

Through bite-size learning on every subject imaginable, from ancient Greek to renewable energy, OpenLearn supports learners with upskilling for work, studying for school or perfecting a hobby. Having collaborated with the likes of Google, MoneySavingExpert and Carers Trust to name a few, OpenLearn continues to reach a wide audience and change lives for the better.

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During the Covid-19 pandemic, OpenLearn responded to the needs of learners by creating relevant, topical content quickly, including four new home learning hubs aimed at S6 pupils, advice and guidance for nursing and healthcare workers, and mental health tips and resources for those struggling with isolation. Through the early months of the 2020 lockdown, OpenLearn experienced a huge surge in visitors, with the average daily visits to the site rising from 40,000 to a regular 160,000 per day. These high visitor numbers were sustained throughout 2020, with visitors not just looking at OpenLearn, but learning – since March 2020, there have been more than 3.4m enrolments.

During the pandemic, OpenLearn created relevant, topical content quickly, including four new home learning hubs aimed at S6 pupils

OpenLearn has continued to deliver via its many partner initiatives, like its recent collaboration with the Department for Work and Pensions and Job Centre Plus (JCP) to help jobseekers develop valuable skills needed to secure employment. The programme of courses on ‘soft skills’, such as communication, decision making, and leadership are now being actively promoted by JCP career coaches across its 750 branches in Scotland, England and Wales.

The OU in Scotland has also joined forces with OpenLearn on a huge range of content, including the Scottish early learning and childcare practitioner courses, which were commissioned by the Scottish Government, and Open Pathways, a resource for people who are thinking about getting back into learning. The latter sparked the evolution of Open Learning Champions – facilitators based across Scotland that inspire others in their community, voluntary organisation, college, library or place of work to reap the incredible benefits of OpenLearn.

The impact of OpenLearn over the past 15 years, but especially throughout the first 20 months of the pandemic, secured its win at the Open Education Global 2021 Open Education Awards for Excellence. The Open Resilience Award was presented to OpenLearn for its exemplary leadership and open educational practices implemented in the context of Covid-19.

OpenLearn remains integral to the OU’s mission of being ‘open to people, places, methods and ideas’ and has helped to cement the university’s reputation as a global pioneer in distance learning. With plenty of new courses, videos and collaborations on the horizon, OpenLearn and its inspiring team will continue to empower millions more to learn for free online. By improving access, building confidence and eliminating cost, OpenLearn and the OU can reach a greater number of people with life-changing learning that meets their needs and enriches society.

To find out more about OpenLearn, visit www.openlearn.com.

Dr Patrina Law is the Head of OpenLearn at The Open University

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